Written by: Adam Vaughn | September 24th, 2020
The Artist’s Wife (Tom Dolby, 2020) 3½ out of 4 stars.
The Artist’s Wife tells the story of Claire Smythson, the wife of famous and renowned painter Richard Smythson, as she witnesses her husband’s descent into dementia. All the while, she contemplates if it’s too late to create a breakout work of art under her own name. The film quickly launches the viewer into this dilemma, and keeps us embracing the intimate setting between Claire (Lena Olin, Maya Dardel) and Richard (Bruce Dern, Nebraska) for the duration of the story.
The performances from Olin and Dern are a pivotal part of the film’s success. Both deliver engaging and relatable characters, with an empowering earnestness. Olin certainly leads the film with a strong sense of responsibility, playing a character towards the end of her years with the choice of caring for her beloved in his last breaths of life, or allowing herself to be selfish and pursue her own artistry. Dern is an excellent choice of actor for his role, having previously played the “older man with issues” part to perfection. Olin and Dern are supported by a solid ensemble, including Juliet Rylance (A Dog’s Purpose) as the couple’s daughter, Angela and Avan Jogia (Zombieland: Double Tap).
The Artist’s Wife delivers prime emotional tension, as Richard’s condition worsens throughout the film. The story is driven by the surprising moments that arise through Claire’s perspective, and while it does tell a well-worn tale, The Artist’s Wife finds ways to make the film about more than just a man with dementia. The relationship that kindles between Claire and Angela, leading to the end of the film, really brings Claire’s story to a hopeful conclusion. I can certainly see people objecting to the character’s individual motivations and the directorial choices, however, as a whole the story delicately ties together its ideas and makes things cohesive.
The film’s overall ending has a very impactful and tasteful tone, tying together all of the main characters’ journeys in a unique way. One may argue that Claire’s final decision, in regard to Richard and his art exhibit, undermines her as a strong woman, but I personally found that Claire makes a very responsible choice; one that, as depicted in the last image of the film, will not only benefit her husband in the best way before his unavoidable fate, but also strengthen Claire and her relationships with the people around her.